Special to the OBSERVER
Part II - Last week we talked about increasing the depth of our garden soil to improve yields while using less actual space in the garden. In trying to grow the same amount in less space, you need to consider how to extend the growing season so you can harvest two crops instead of one. One way is to get a jump on the season. Our plant hardiness zone has changed from 4 to a zone 5a. Our average frost free period lasts from mid-May until the end of September. Remember this is an average and many of our microclimates are either warmer or cooler and you may see frost in your neck of the woods as late as the beginning of June and as early as the first few weeks in September. If you are in an average area, this change in zone has added on 10 days at each end; although this year many of us have seen a few frosts already.
Consider cool weather crops: peas, spinach, lettuce, and onion can be sown in Mid-April especially if you presoak the seed for 2-3 days and if the soil was prepared the October before. You can start Broccoli indoors and at 4-6 weeks of age it may be transplanted out by late April and covered at night. These crops will all be gone by mid-July freeing up the space for planting a different warm season crop to be harvested in October. This is called successional planting; growing one crop, harvesting it and then planting another crop after the first is finished in one growing season.
Another option to save space is to interplant. Interplanting can be defined as setting fast growth plants between slower growing plants or tall crops near short ones or deep rooted plants near shallow rooted plants. All of these options fit our goal of less space with big results. Here are a few examples I have found useful. My late potatoes go in their 2' wide rows the end of May and don't fill out until early July. In mid-April, I sow a row of spinach or lettuce on each edge leaving the middle clear to set the potatoes. By the time they need hilling and take up all the width, the lettuce, spinach, beets, or green onions are gone! The same can be done with corn sown in early June or pumpkins and squash. I have a daffodil border on the west edge of the vegetable patch and by mid-May I sow the sunflowers which will take over and bloom in mid-summer until frost. Next year I will sow the cosmos among the Asparagus; they will be tall enough to keep up with their feathery neighbors come early July when I quit harvesting the asparagus. I have always followed early green beans, carrots, or broccoli with a late crop of parsnips, rutabagas, more carrots or beans.
Be creative and don't hesitate to try some ideas of your own. Depending on what you grow, see how you can double it up! Have fun.
M. L. Wells, Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardener